Could the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup three consecutive seasons not so long ago? The blemish in the 2013-15 stretch of postseason is today’s topic for another Blackhawks’ “what if.”
When Nick Leddy unintentionally tipped the point blast of Alec Martinez past Corey Crawford 5 minutes and 47 seconds into overtime of the 2014 Western Conference finals’ seventh game, the Chicago Blackhawks’ dream of becoming the first repeat Stanley Cup champion since the 1990s was dead.
The Los Angeles Kings had staved off a major comeback bid from the Blackhawks and stunned the United Center crowd on June 1, 2014, to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings would mow down the New York Rangers in five games to take their second Cup in three years.
The interesting thing about that year’s Western Conference finals series was that many fans treated it like the Cup Final. The two teams coming out of the East, New York and Montreal, were viewed as far inferior to Chicago and Los Angeles. The Kings’ quick Cup Final win at least partially proved that, though four of the five games were decided by a single goal.
This leads to the natural curiosity about what would have happened had the Blackhawks won that Game 7 against Los Angeles. What would have happened if Leddy’s redirect had sent Martinez’s shot off or over the crossbar, instead of right under it.
Thankfully, I’m bringing you a post in which we speculate the “what ifs” of a Blackhawks victory that fateful June night.
More from Editorials
- Blackhawks: Changes to the coaching staff are a step in the right direction
- Chicago Blackhawks: Reasons for optimism and cause for concern
- Blackhawks: Kick off four game road trip against Kraken
- Recapping the Jeremy Colliton era with the Chicago Blackhawks
- Chicago Blackhawks have a lingering goalie problem
What would have happened the rest of that year?
In this alternate universe, we’re going to say the Blackhawks win up winning Game 7 in overtime. If Martinez’s shot doesn’t go in but we say the Kings are going to win the game anyway, there isn’t anything to speculate from Chicago’s perspective.
So the Blackhawks officially wipe away their 3-1 series deficit and topple the Kings. They’ve earned a spot in the Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers, a team with a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist but a pretty average everything else.
The Rangers rated 18th of 30 NHL teams in the regular season in goals scored but were propped up by Lundqvist in many instances. Indeed, he posted a .923 save percentage in five Final games — an entirely serviceable stat, even if Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick hit .932 in the series.
Still, it was the Rangers’ lack of timely offense that cut deep. In five games, they had just three players who tallied three or more points. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh‘s four points led the team. New York could never keep up with Los Angeles offensively and couldn’t stop the Kings when it mattered most.
In three of the Kings’ wins, they tallied at least one third period goal in order to force overtime, all three times tallying the only goal in the extra frame(s). There was a confidence and swagger with Los Angeles that the Rangers also couldn’t match.
A lot of what I’ve said about the Kings would have applied to the Blackhawks as well had they faced the Rangers. Sure, it wasn’t a certainly Chicago would top New York. But the Blackhawks had a better team than the Rangers and had a chance to repeat as Cup champs. I feel like they had more than a fighter’s chance.
Let’s say, then, that the Blackhawks win the Cup in 2014. No matter how many games, they’re the first team since the Red Wings in the 1990s to repeat — and the first team of the salary cap era to do so.
The question then is what happens after the parade. The real-life Blackhawks lost the following guys from their 2014 postseason roster: Leddy, Michal Handzus, Brandon Bollig and Sheldon Brookbank. The team also added Brad Richards at center.
Maybe the only one of these that changes if Chicago wins the Cup in 2014 is Leddy, but that situation was more salary cap based than “anger over him tipping the puck past Crow” based.
Da Windy City
Therefore, I think hypothetical Chicago walks into the 2014-15 season with close to the same, if not entirely the same roster as real-life Chicago. Then, what happens next?
Do the Blackhawks still win it all in 2015?
This is what people seem to forget when they consider the idea of the Blackhawks winning three straight Cups in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Repeating as NHL champion is really difficult. Three-peating … that hasn’t happened since the New York Islanders won four straight in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.
The 2014-15 Blackhawks were an entirely fine team. They finished third in a stacked Central Division, just two points behind Nashville and seven behind St. Louis. They were middle of the road in goals scored (16th of 30) but top in the league in goals allowed behind the Crow/Scott Darling/Antti Raanta trio.
The Blackhawks would have been coming off a pair of runs to the Stanley Cup ahead of the 2014-15 campaign. Even with one of those runs coming in a lockout-shortened season, that’s a ton of hockey to be playing — not even considering the playoff runs in 2009 and 2010.
Yes, the Blackhawks weren’t having any noticeable issues with their star/core players rapidly aging or abruptly slowing down. But injuries and fatigue can pile up when you least expect it, and two consecutive runs at the Cup versus one in 2013 and a miss could’ve had an effect on individuals or the entire team at some point.
Maybe the Blackhawks still wouldn’t have been at risk of missing the 2015 postseason coming off two Cup runs — ninth-place Los Angeles tallied 95 points to the Blackhawks’ 102. But the road could have been rougher, and the Blackhawks may have been more beat up entering what was pretty much guaranteed to be a tough first-round series, no matter the opponent.
As it stands in real life, the Blackhawks had to get through Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Tampa Bay to win the Cup in 2015. Could their road have been different had they suffered more from fatigue and injury during the 2014-15 season? Would a team coming off consecutive Cup runs have made it through the Nashville-Minnesota-Anaheim-Tampa Bay gauntlet?
It’s hard to say with any sort of certainty that Chicago three-peats in this instance. Yes, they had an incredible core and a solid supporting cast, and there’s no way I’d have ruled the 2014-15 Blackhawks out of any playoff series. But wear and tear changes things, for sure.
Perhaps the Blackhawks were destined to win two of three possible Cups in the 2013-15 timeframe. Maybe it could’ve been 2013 and 2014 instead of 2013 and 2015 — or even 2014 and 2015 instead of 2013 and 2015. Remember how close the Red Wings were to dispatching the Blackhawks in 2013’s conference semifinals?
Overall, I think the biggest impact of the Blackhawks losing that conference finals Game 7 in 2014 was on the team’s mentality heading into the 2014-15 season. The Blackhawks felt like they had unfinished business, and they went about getting the job done that time. Who’s to know if it would’ve happened the same way had they won it all in 2014.